"Knowing that I've just done something that will take decades off my parents' lives with worry, you'll excuse me for not getting into the fa-la-la-la-la Yuletide spirit this year. . . . The only difference between Christmas 2001 and Christmas 2000 is that I don't have a visit from Hope to look forward to. And Bethany has already packed on some major fetal flab. Oh, and now Gladdie doesn't need to ask a bizillion questions about my boyfriend, because she's already gotten the dirt from you know who."
Jessica Darling is up in arms again in this much-anticipated, hilarious sequel to Sloppy Firsts. This time, the hyperobservant, angst-ridden teenager is going through the social and emotional ordeal of her senior year at Pineville High. Not only does the mysterious and oh-so-compelling Marcus Flutie continue to distract Jessica, but her best friend, Hope, still lives in another state, and she can't seem to escape the clutches of the Clueless Crew, her annoying so-called friends. To top it off, Jessica's parents won't get off her butt about choosing a college, and her sister Bethany's pregnancy is causing a big stir in the Darling household.
With keen intelligence, sardonic wit, and ingenious comedic timing, Megan McCafferty again re-creates the tumultuous world of today's fast-moving and sophisticated teens. Fans of Sloppy Firsts will be reunited with their favorite characters and also introduced to the fresh new faces that have entered Jess's life, including the hot creative writing teacher at her summer college prep program and her feisty, tell-it-like-it-is grandmother Gladdie. But most of all, readers will finally have the answers to all of their burgeoning questions, and then some: Will Jessica crack under the pressure of senioritis? Will her unresolved feelings for Marcus wreak havoc on her love life? Will Hope ever come back to Pineville? Fall in love with saucy, irreverent Jessica all over again in this wonderful sequel to a book that critics and readers alike hailed as the best high school novel in years.
"Every day, I wait for that doomsday shoe to drop on my head and crush my spirit," laments New Jersey high schooler Jessica Darling. This hilarious, candid sequel to Sloppy Firsts opens the summer before Jessica's senior year of high school, when the precocious misfit is at a New Jersey academic enrichment camp whose competitive enrollment is belied by its acronym-SPECIAL. There, she meets Prof. Samuel MacDougall, a handsome writing teacher with "three novels, two works of nonfiction and one hot piece of ass to his name," who challenges Jessica to imagine the world outside of her native suburbia. She also runs into her former "crush-to-end-all-crushes" Paul Parlipiano (he's gay, of course), who introduces her to Columbia University-which she decides she must attend. Come September, Jessica works on her college applications, dearly misses her best friend, Hope, who has moved to Tennessee, and spends much of her time trying not to think about bad boy Marcus Flutie, who broke her heart last winter when he confessed that he only asked her out as an experiment. As her senior year progresses, Jessica starts dating Len Levy, her rival for class valedictorian, and becomes the subject of the school's new anonymous gossip rag. The material is typical teen fare, but Jessica is a captivating, intelligent, acidly funny-but always believably adolescent-narrator who is unsparing in her sketches of Pineville High "society" yet touchingly alive to her own vulnerabilities. Though the happy ending seems targeted to a YA crowd, adults will also enjoy Jessica's winning observations.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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April 21, 2003
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Excerpt from Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty
I can't believe I used to do this nearly every day. Or night, rather. In the wee hours, when the sky was purple and the house sighed with sleep, I'd hover, wide awake, over my beat-up black-and-white-speckled composition notebook. I'd scribble, scratch, and scrawl until my hand, and sometimes my heart, ached.
I wrote and wrote and wrote. Then, one day, I stopped.
With the exception of letters to Hope and editorials for the school newspaper, I haven't written anything real in months. (Which is why it's such a crock that I'm attending SPECIAL.) I have no choice but to start up again because I'm required to keep a journal for SPECIAL's writing program. But this journal will be different. It has to be different. Or I will be institutionalized.
My last journal was the only eyewitness to every mortifying and just plan moronic thought I had throughout my sophomore and junior years. And like the mob, I had the sole observer whacked. Specifically, I slipped page by page into my dad's paper shredder, leaving nothing but guilty confetti behind. I wanted to have a ritualistic burning in the fireplace, but my mom wouldn't let me because she was afraid the ink from my pen would emit a toxic cloud and kill us all. Even in my dementia I knew that would have been an unnecessarily melodramatic touch.
I destroyed that journal because it contained all the things I should've been telling my best friend. I trashed it on New Year's Day, the last time I saw Hope, which was the first time I had seen her since she moved to Tennessee. My resolution: to stop pouring my soul out to an anonymous person on paper and start telling her everything again. And everything included everything that had happened between me and He Who Shall Remain Nameless.
Instead of hating me for the weird whatever relationship He and I used to have, Hope proved once and for all that she is a better best friend than I am. She swore to me on that January day, and a bizillion times since, that I have the right to be friends and/or more with whomever I want to be friends and/or more with. She assured me of this, even though His debaucherous activities indirectly contributed to her own brother's overdose, and very directly led to her parents' moving her a thousand miles away from Pineville's supposedly evil influence. Because when it comes down to it, as she told me that shivery afternoon, and again and again, her brother, Heath's, death was no one's fault but his own. No one stuck that lethal needle in his arm; Heath did it himself. And if I feel a real connection with Him, she told me then, and keeps telling me, and telling me, and telling me, I shouldn't be so quick to cut it off.
I've told Hope a bizillion times right back that I'm not removing Him from my life out of respect for Heath's memory. I'm doing it because it simply doesn't do me any good to keep Him there. Especially when He hasn't said a word to me since I told Him to fuck himself last New Year's Eve.
That's not totally true. He has spoken to me. And that's how I know that when it comes to He Who Shall Remain Nameless and me, there's something far worse than silence: small talk. We used to talk about everything from stem cells to Trading Spaces. Now the deepest He gets is: "Would you mind moving your head, please? I can't see the blackboard." (2/9/01--First period. World History II.)
STOP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I don't want to have to burn this journal before I even begin.
Now, here's a fun and totally not psychotic topic to write about!
Today I got the all-time ass-kickingest going-away present: 780 Verbal, 760 Math.
GOD BLESS THE SCHOLASTIC APTITUDE TEST!
That's a combined score of 1540, for those of you who are perhaps not as mathematically inclined as I am. YAHOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
I've done it. I've written my ticket out of Pineville, and I won't have to run in circles for it. I am the first person to admit that if an athletic scholarship were my only option, I'd be out running laps and pumping performance-enhancing drugs right now. But my brain, for once, has helped, not hindered. I AM SO HAPPY I DID NOT SIGN UP FOR CROSS-COUNTRY CAMP.
As annoying as all those stupid vocabulary drills and Princeton Review process-of-elimination practice sessions were, I'm totally against the movement to get rid of the SAT. It is the only way to prove to admissions officers that I'm smart. A 4.4 GPA, glowing recommendations, and a number-one class rank mean absolutely nothing when you're up against applicants from schools that don't suck.
Of course, with scores like these, my problem isn't whether I'll get accepted to college, but deciding which of the 1600 schools in the Princeton Review guide to colleges I should attend in the first place. I've been banking on the idea that college will be the place where I finally find people who understand me. My niche. I have no idea if Utopia University exists. But there is one consolation. Even if I pick the wrong school, and the odds are 1600 to 1 that I will, it can't be worse than my four years at Pineville High.
Incidentally, I didn't rock the SATs because I'm a genius. One campus tour of Harvard taught me the difference between freaky brilliance and the rest of us. No, my scores didn't reflect my superior intellect as much as they did my ability to memorize all the little tricks for acing the test. For me the SATs were a necessary annoyance, but not the big trauma that they are for most high-school students. Way more things were harder for me to deal with in my sophomore and junior years than the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Since I destroyed all the evidence of my hardships, let's review:
Jessica Darling's Top Traumas:
Trauma #1: My best friend moved a thousand miles away. After her brother's overdose, Hope's parents stole her away to their tiny Southern hometown, where good old-fashioned morals prevail, apparently. I can't blame the Weavers for trying to protect her innocence, as Hope is probably the last guileless person on the planet. Her absence hit me right in the middle of the school year, nineteen days before my Bitter Sixteenth birthday, shortly before the turn of this century. Humankind survived Y2K, but my world came to an end.
Here's the kind of best friend Hope was (is) to me: She was the only person who understood why I couldn't stand the Clueless Crew (as Manda, Sara, and Bridget were collectively known before Manda slept with Bridget's boyfriend, Burke). And when I started changing the lyrics to pop songs as a creative way of making fun of them, she showcased her numerous artistic talents by recording herself singing them (with her own piano accompaniment), compiling the cuts on a CD (Now, That's What I Call Amusing!, Volume 1), and designing a professional-quality cover complete with liner notes. ("Very special muchas gracias go out to Julio and Enrique Iglesias for all the love and inspiration you've given me over the years. Te amo y te amo. . . .") I'm listening to her soaring rendition of "Cellulite" (aka Sara's song) right now. (Sung to the tune of the Dave Matthews Band's "Satellite.")
Cellulite, on my thighs
Looks like stucco, makes me cry
Butt of blubber
Cellulite, no swimsuit will do
I must find a muumuu
But I can't face those dressing-room mirrors
Creams don't work, and squats, forget it!
My parents won't pay for lipo just yet
My puckered ass needs replacing
Look up, look down, it's all around
If that isn't proof that Hope was the only one who laughed at my jokes and sympathized with my tears, I don't know what is. We still talk on the phone and write letters, but it's never been enough. And unlike most people my age, I think the round-the-clock availability of e-mail and interactive messaging is an inadequate substitute for face-to-face, heart-to-heart contact. This is one of the reasons I am a freak. Speaking of . . .
Trauma #2: I had suck-ass excuses for friends. My parents thought that I had plenty of people to fill the void left by Hope, especially Bridget. She is Gwyneth blond with a bodacious booty and Hollywood ambitions. I am none of these things. We share nothing in common other than the street we've lived on since birth.
My parents also had a difficult time buying my loneliness because it was well known that Scotty, His Royal Guyness and Grand Poo-bah of the Upper Crust, had a crush on me. This was--and still is--inexplicable since he never seems to understand a single thing that comes out of my mouth. I found the prospect of having to translate every utterance exhausting and exasperating. I didn't want to date Scotty just to kill time. He has since proven me right by banging bimbo after bimbo, all of whose first names invariably end in y.
My "friendship" with the Clueless Two, Manda and Sara, certainly didn't make my life any sunnier, especially after Manda couldn't resist her natural urge to bang Bridget's boyfriend, and Sara couldn't resist her inborn instinct to blab to the world about it.
And finally, to make matters worse, Miss Hyacinth Anastasia Wallace, the one girl I thought had friend potential, turned out to be a Manhattan celebutante hoping to gain credibility by slumming at Pineville High for a marking period or two, then writing a book about it, which was optioned by Miramax before she completed the spell check on the last draft, and will be available in stores nationwide just in time for Christmas.
Trauma #3: My parents didn't--and still don't--get it. As I've already mentioned, my parents told me that I was overreacting to the loss of my best friend. My mother thought I should channel all my angsty energy into becoming a boy magnet. My father wanted me to harness it toward becoming a long-distance-running legend. My parents had little experience in dealing with my unique brand of suburban-high-school misanthropy because my older sibling, Bethany, was everything I was not: uncomplicated, popular, and teen-magazine pretty.
Trauma #4: I was unable to sleep. I developed chronic insomnia after Hope moved. (I currently get about four hours of REM every night--a huge improvement.) Bored by tossing and turning, I started to sneak out of the house and go running around my neighborhood. These jaunts had a soothing, cathartic effect. It was the only time my head would clear out the clutter.
On one of those early-morning runs, I tripped over an exposed root and broke my leg. I was never as swift again. My dad was devastated, but secretly I was relieved. I never liked having to win, and was grateful for an excuse to suck.
Trauma #5: My menstrual cycle went MIA. My ovaries shut down in response to the stress, lack of sleep, and overtraining. I was as sexually mature as your average kindergartener.
Trauma #6: I developed a sick obsession with He Who Shall Remain Nameless. He wasn't my boyfriend, but He was more than just a friend. I was able to tell Him things that I couldn't share with Hope. When I couldn't run anymore, His voice soothed me, and I was actually able to fall asleep again. My period even returned, welcoming me back to the world of pubescence.
His motives weren't as pure as I thought they were. Whatever relationship we had was conceived under false pretenses. I was an experiment. To see what would happen when the male slut/junkie of Pineville High--who just happened to be my best friend's dead brother's drug buddy--came on to the virgin Brainiac. He thought that confessing His sinful intentions on that fateful New Year's Eve would lead to forgiveness, but it just made things worse. I was profoundly disappointed in Him--and myself--for ever thinking that He could've replaced Hope.
No one can. Or should. Or will.